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Max Beckmann's 'The Apocalypse'

This remarkable realisation of Revelation 21:4 (‘And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes') was produced by Max Beckmann as part of series of lithographs produced while in exile in Amsterdam during World War II. The work represents a very different dimension in the tradition of visualisations of the New Jerusalem. Other images in this collection, such as the Angers Apocalypse tapestry and the Ghent altarpiece, exemplify the strong tradition of representing the New Jerusalem as either a city or a landscape. Human presence and interaction has been notable mainly by its absence—even in William Blake’s The River of Life the human figures are secondary to the landscape and the river. In Beckmann's work, however, the New Jerusalem is conceived in primarily relational terms. In the colour rendering a winged figure dressed in a golden robe wipes away tears from a squat, human figure lying on a table. The prone figure is thought to be Beckmann himself as, in the tradition of Albrecht Dürer (1471–1526) and Jean Duvet (1485–c.1561), Beckmann has inserted his own likeness into his Apocalypse series several times. Through a circular window which resembles a port-hole lies what one presumes to be the new Heaven and new Earth of Revelation 21:1, but this is very much not the focus of the image. This presentation of the New Jerusalem as a place of consolation and intermingling between the divine and the human takes the imagined New Jerusalem a long way from the actual city of Jerusalem.